It’s one thing to see and appreciate how other artists use techniques like “lost and found” when viewing their finished work. But I thought it might be useful to show a couple of step-by-step demonstrations of how I go about it. First, one in charcoal and then a second in oil paint.
Here’s a selection of my drawing stuff. I used a 6B Extra Soft General’s charcoal pencil for the following study, which I think just might make an interesting painting. The “stumps” on the left are used for blending. I’ll be sharing a book on sketching next week that really showed me what the stumps are good for.
Also, here is my computer set-up. My husband, bless his heart, built the platform it all sits on to my specifications. We fastened it to the IKEA desk with an office chair swivel to ensure that it could easily support the off-center weight of the iMac, which has a 24′ glossy monitor.
Using the image on the monitor, I did this value study-
The drawing is done and now I’m starting to lay in the shadow shape on the left as one mass.
All the shadow shapes are done. Notice that I haven’t put in any detail or features in the shadow, except an indication of the nostril and some of the mouth.
The finished study. The shadow area is treated as one big shape and I’ve “lost” all the rest.
Here is a second demo done in paint. The same principles apply.
The starting image; a white rhino I photographed at the Lewa Downs Coservancy, Kenya, in 2004. The light side and shadow side are very distinct.
The initial drawing. Why red? I could make up a really cool explanation, but actually I picked it up from Scott Christensen. Sometimes I use other colors depending on what I have in mind for the painting, but I tend to fall back on the red for these quick studies. One less decision to make.
Once again, I’m laying in the shadow as one big shape.
I’ve added color to the light side and also used the same tone for the background. Notice that I have left brush strokes showing for visual texture and that there are four different color temperatures in the shadow.
I’ve now covered the background with paint and picked out the lightest areas on the rhino.
The finished study, which took less than two hours. I lightened the background to pop out the shadows, added a darker tone on the left to pop out the side of the head and added some final brushstrokes at the bottom to suggest grass.
A little tired after all this? You’re not the only one:
Four years ago today, internationally known wildlife artist Simon Combes was killed by a cape buffalo while walking with his wife on a mountain called Delemere’s Nose, which is part of the Delemere estate in Kenya where they lived. Just two months earlier, I and nine other incredibly fortunate wildlife artists were on the safari of a lifetime with him. Looking at dates on my images, I see that we had gotten up the morning of October 12 at the Kigio Wildlife Sanctuary and spent most of the day driving south to the Masai Mara. When we stopped for lunch in the Masai group ranch north of the reserve proper, we saw our first Mara wildlife, a male topi on top of a mound. Then, in rapid succession it was wildebeest, gazelle, hippos, a huge male giraffe right inside the entrance to the Reserve and then…lions!
My tribute page and the photos that I took of him during the safari are here. But what I want to share today is what it means as an artist to be able to travel to a place like Kenya with someone like Simon, who knew the ground and the animals and who always seemed to get us to the right place at the right time. I had realized very quickly on my first trip there in 1999 that it was pointless to paint animals like cheetahs and lions without having seen them in their habitat. There’s really no way to get it right and those who have been there know the difference instantly. Trust me on this. So out of the 5,218 photos I shot in 2004, here are a few that I hope will illustrate this point, followed by some of the paintings that have resulted from the trip. If you want more, the whole safari is here. on my website.
Emotion and point of view play a major role in the creation of great wildlife art. How could the two women in the front vehicle not remember and “channel” this encounter if they paint an elephant? We’ll all remember this morning in the Samburu going from cool to warm, the beautiful light and this bull elephant who made it abundantly clear that it was time for us to move along.
Artists get asked all the time where we get the ideas for our paintings. Well, here’s one I probably wouldn’t have thought of if I hadn’t seen it. Baboons and impala breakfasting together at Lake Nakuru. Part of the problem with zoos and game parks is that the animals are out of context. You never see the natural groupings or interactions. Or if there are different species together, you have no idea how that would play out in the wild. To me, this kind of reference is gold. I can paint this African “Beauty and the Beast” scene because I saw it, photographed it, know it happened.
There really is something about lions. They define “presence”, even when they are still kids, like these two. Great afternoon light and you hardly notice that his face is covered with flies. For contrast, here’s a zoo lion. He’s gorgeous, with a huge mane and perfect whiskers. Dead giveaway, along with the flat light and lack of body condition. This lion don’t hunt. Which would you rather paint?
We went out on an evening game drive in the Samburu and as the sun was going down, it seemed to be really important to Simon to get to a particular place. We were literally along for the ride, so just waited to see what was up. Oh, yeah, this is very, very nice. It’ll do. Thank you, Simon.
Here’s a selection of the paintings that have come out of the safari so far.
Reference shot in the Mara. Simon did some interesting jogs with the vehicle to get alongside this big bird, who just wanted to walk away .
I loved the northern Kenya landscape with the huge, storybook doum palms.
Reference shot in the Mara. There was a cub, too, but that’s a painting for another day.This one was snapped up by a collector who also loves vultures and gets first crack at any I do.
John Seerey-Lester was kind enough to choose this painting for inclusion in the 2008 Art and the Animal Kingdom show at the Bennington Center for the Arts.
Cropped in from a large herd of buffalo at Lake Nakuru. Nobody was getting anywhere near that calf. No way, no how.
Reference photographed in the Mara, where we got an eyeful of cheetah every day we were there. This painting was juried into the 2008 Animal Art show at the Mendocino Art Center here in California. I’ve got to be in the right mood to paint all those spots, but I do love cheetahs!
ART THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A few days later I looked up from my work to see a new elephant, one that I had not seen before, standing quietly only yards from my easel. He had crossed the river to my side on the outer curve of the ox bow and wanted to pass through the narrow neck where I was working. To do so he would have to pass within five yards of me or go back the long way around. I held my breath as he shifted silently from foot to foot, carefully weighing the situation. Finally, he moved forward and past me, watching intently as I stood motionless. Such rare incidents of trust between man and wild animals give me a great thrill.”
Personally, I have found that learning from good teachers is a great time-saver. What could take years of trial and error can maybe be addressed in an hour and then you get to move on to the next challenge.
In that spirit of benefiting from those who have gone before, here’s some thoughts about the making of wildlife art that I find worthwhile, illustrated with a few of the reference photos I’ve shot through the years.
“One of the challenges of painting a number of animals, particularly pronghorns, is to design an interesting grouping. What I try to achieve is an appealing overall shape; an uncontrived, natural look to the grouping…”
“…the need to convey those gestures, poses and attitudes that spell out the character unique to the animal.”
“You look into the eyes of a leopard in a zoo, and sure, you can get a lot out of them. But look into the eyes of a lion 30 feet away from you, when you’re standing right in front of him with no rifle, and let me tell you, they look a lot different. They do.”
NICHOLAS HAMMOND author of Modern Wildlife Painting:
“The best of modern wildlife painters show us the mystery and death, memory and beauty and what is to be learned, or lamented, loved or wept for.”
Although sales weren’t what I’d hoped for, things were about as I’d expected given gas prices, the real estate implosion and the upcoming election. Made back gas and food money. I sold a lot of cards and a small original. But I got a lot more out of this event than sales. My fellow neighbor artists were equally talented and welcoming. And I feel like I laid a good groundwork for next year.
The people who came by my booth in a steady stream both days were interested and interesting, as one might expect in Marin County. There was the petite older woman who, it turns out, is an doctor of internal medicine who got her medical degree from Stanford in the 1940’s. Her father supported her, but her mother didn’t, saying that she would never go to a female doctor. Oh, well, with luck we’ve largely moved on from that sort of thing.
As always, got some great stories about other people’s world travels to places like Botswana and inner travels by a woman who does shaman work. Did I say I was in Marin County?
Many people were interested in my paintings of the takhi and most of them have seen the movie “The Story of the Weeping Camel”.
Out of around 300 artists at the festival, I was just around the corner from Jeff Morales (www.jmceramics.com), a fantastic ceramic artist who lives less than 15 minutes from me on the south end of McKinleyville. Small world #253.
One of the great things about the festival were the stilt walkers in absolutely amazing costumes. They really took the event to another level and drew a crowd wherever they went. Here’s two of them:
And, of course, being a wildlife artist, the universe conspired to allow me to do a little fieldwork in the comfort of my booth. Here’s the booth:
And here’s the little pocket gopher who came up for breakfast around 9am right next to the base of my easel in the middle of my space. Wildlife watching doesn’t get any easier.
I had fun doing painting demos during the weekend. Here’s the one I did on Saturday in about two hours, counting interruptions. It’s a kangaroo I saw in a zoo. Don’t know the species:
And this is the one I did on Sunday, on and off for most of the day. Considering the working conditions, I’m pretty darned please. It’s the best cape buffalo I’ve done yet. And I’m keeping him.
Got back from my trip last Thursday evening with no more than what is the usual nonsense when one flies these days. Plane was late getting to Denver, so we were late leaving Denver, which meant I missed my 4:12 connection in San Francisco. On the bright side, the airline automatically rebooked me on the next flight home at 6:30, which was good since the last flight out didn’t leave until, ouch, 11:30pm.
We have a canine guest right now, a 3.5 year old male German Shepherd rescued from a seriously rotten situation. I’m doing the emergency foster while a ride is lined up to get him to his long-term foster. He’s spent the last four months with people who didn’t “like” him, so he was kept inside and forced to do his business in a room. He’s got what looks like flea allergy dermatitis. Very thin fur on his back end and tail. Also very scared at first, but totally unaggressive.
We have him on a long cable tie-down on the patio so he can have peace and quiet, but start to get used to a normal environment not filled with screaming and craziness. He’s unneutered, but very submissive. Ignores the cats. Associates collars and having his neck reached for with something negative, but isn’t head shy. Niki is modeling calm, balanced behavior and setting boundaries for their interactions, so he’s my partner in helping get the poor guy back on an even keel. He’ll be a fantastic family companion once he’s had time in a stable environment and gets his confidence back.
I guess the moral is, if you really don’t want an animal, don’t just ignore it and stop caring for it, do what it takes to get them to a place where they have a chance to get a new home where they will get the love they deserve. Sheeh, is that so hard?
I had a great time sketching and photographing at the Denver Zoo, along with getting to see the Robert Bateman show at The Wildlife Experience. There were so many of his iconic images- the snow leopard sitting on a cliff as snow swirls around, the orca amongst the kelp, the storks at dusk with the shimmering band of gold water, plus some of his early abstracts. He is the living master in wildlife art when it comes to design/composition and the sheer beauty of his painting. Very, very inspirational. If you are in the Denver area and you want to see the best in animal art, see his show.
There was also a small room with paintings of African subjects and I was tickled to quickly realize that I had at least met, if not studied, with all of the artists: John Seerey-Lester, John Banovich, Simon Combes and Daniel Smith. I think I feel a lion painting coming on!
In the meantime, here are some of my sketches from the Denver Zoo. Most of them took less than three minutes, if that, so no time to doodle around. First I try to capture the gesture of their pose or movement, then add things like eyes and fur texture. Last is value, Sometimes I end up adding the modeling and “color” while I’m having lunch. The lions were very fit for zoo cats, but I’ll still “tighten” them up by referring to lions I photographed in Kenya.
The horses are my beloved takhi, of which three were out when I was there. I had seen domestic yaks, but these were the first wild yaks. They manage ok in The Mile High City, but in their native (shrinking) habitat, they thrive at 15,000 feet plus.